During December, many people host cookie swaps. Organizing a festive cookie party is a great way to cut back on your holiday baking. Instead of making a million cookies, you and your friends each bake a different cookie. Then you get together and trade cookies; everyone walks away with an assortment of treats. To ensure that you don't end up with 10 dozen chocolate chip cookies, ask your guests what type of cookie they will bring. Throw the party on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in between lunch and dinner.
Don't worry about serving a bunch of appetizers, but do offer a couple of easy nibbles like mixed nuts, cheese, and homemade savory cookies. Thyme, lemon, and sea-salt shortbread is crisp and buttery, while blue cheese pecan crackers are rich and addictive. You'll have to wait until tomorrow to see my suggested sweet cookie recipes, but you can learn the techniques for the salty shortbread and cheesy crackers when you keep reading.
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
Stir the flour, salt, lemon peel, and thyme together in a medium bowl.
With your fingertips, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until a coarse, crumbly mixture forms.
Blend the lightly beaten egg, egg yolks, and water together. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the egg mixture for brushing.
Make a well in the center of the flour. Add the remaining egg mixture and blend together with your hands without kneading the dough together; the dough will look a bit crumbly. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough together once or twice, just until it sticks together. Press the dough into a 1-inch disc, wrap in plastic film, and refrigerate until firm, about 1/2 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°F and line the bottom of a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap, and place it on a floured work surface.
Press the dough into a 6-by-5-inch rectangle. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a larger 10-by-7-inch rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough in half, forming two 5-by-7-inch pieces. Using a pizza wheel or sharp paring knife, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips.
Carefully place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet leaving a little room between each cookie. Brush the tops with the reserved egg mixture and sprinkle a little coarse sea salt on top. Gently press the salt into the surface of each cookie so it does not fall off.
Bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and serve warm or at room temperature. Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
3/4 cup (2 ounces) pecan halves
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoon chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 ounces blue cheese, such as Danish blue, crumbled
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place pecans on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool.
Transfer pecans to the bowl of a food processor; pulse until finely ground. Transfer ground pecans into a small bowl; set aside.
Combine flour and pecans in the bowl of a food processor; pulse briefly to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cheese; process until dough comes together and is well combined.
Transfer dough to a work surface. Shape dough into a 2-inch-wide log. Wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Slice chilled log into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Transfer slices to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake immediately, rotating once, until crackers are golden brown and firm in the center, 25 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. Crackers may be made a day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.